Smartwatch.FM interview with Bill Geiser, CEO of Metawatch

This interview with Metwatch CEO Bill Geiser took place in July 2013.  

Full transcript

 Smartwatch.FM: Bill you are the CEO and founder of Metawatch

Geiser: That's correct

Smartwatch.FM: So, first tell me a little bit about yourself and kind of your background.

Geiser: I, along with my partner David Rosales, founded Metawatch in August 2011 through a spin out of a division I ran at Fossil that was our watch technology division.  Prior to that, I had been sort of exploring how watches and technology come together since the mid 90s,

I've been a former competitive swimmer years and years ago, and in the mid 90s I started seeing how gym equipment, Stairmasters, cycling machines and so on had lots of electronic feedback for people that were exercising.  And I decided to do something like that for swimming. 

So in 1997, I created a product that I did a licensing deal with Speedo on that was called the Speedo stroke monitor which was sort of the very very first iteration of ... for swimmers that gave swimmers some important metrics on the quality and the efficiency of their stroke.  That's how I got into this business.

Smartwatch.FM: It wasn't too many years later you were actually working at Fossil.  So how did the idea for the Fossil based kind of smart watches come to be?

Geiser: Well specifically the way the Bluetooth watch came to us was in the late 2004, we started observing men wearing Bluetooth headsets, how they would inevitably stop, reach into their pocket, and pull out their phone to see who was calling when they get an incoming phone call. 

The other thing we noticed is more often than not, they pulled out a flip phone or a clam shell phone something like the Motorola Razr that always had a secondary display on the outside.  So we just put these two data points together.  We thought that putting the secondary display where it really made it simple and convenient, on the wrist, made a lot of sense, and we started looking at Bluetooth and one thing lead to another and that's how we, how we jump started this business.

Smartwatch.FM: Tell me how you made the leap from Fossil to your own company creating your own smartwatch.

Geiser: So when, well what happened was in mid 2005, we, while still at Fossil we put a deal together with Sony Ericsson, so a joint development project, that created the first family of really fashion oriented Bluetooth watches.  They were sold under the Sony Ericsson brand, and they were also sold under some Fossil brands as well.  And this sort of ran its course;  we launched the first ones in October 2006, shipped a bunch in 2007, 2008, and 2009. 

In 2010, it was clear that Fossil was investing a lot of it's attention in broadening its fashion accessories, not so much a tech story. I saw that as an opportunity for us. I approached management about acquiring the assets of the business and in August of 2011, we acquired these from Fossil and spun the company into Metawatch.

Smartwatch FM: A lot of people first noticed you with Kickstarter, but there were years of development and history and technology behind, even before it went to Kickstarter.  So Kickstarter raised awareness great marketing vehicle, but you guys had a lot of work done before that.

Geiser: Well actually we started shipping our first development system watches in September of 2011.  So we felt like there was going to be a progression of wearables. And like any other market, they start small and they start in certain market segments.

First step for us was fostering a relationship with the development community.  And we purposely didn't try to position these products as consumer products, I felt that it was a little too early.  The interfaces and phones were still relatively immature, but particularly the interfaces we need to deliver the kinds of services we want for watches.

So we focused on the development community and a year later, in September of 2012, was when we really started launching the Kickstarter products, and those were our first step into the consumer market.  That's where we are today.

Smartwatch FM: Why don't you tell me why I would want a metawatch over other smart watches.

The psychology of why people buy things and wear is much different than the psychology of why people buy the electronic devices they use.  Fashion accessories and apparel are often purchased and worn because of the statement they make. That statement could be about status it could be about personal expression, it could be about a lot of different things.  Not necessarily strictly about the utility they provide.

And because of our long association with arguably one of the worlds leading fashion watch companies, there's really no other smartwatch competitor out there that understands this better than us. We really focus on creating authentic and meaningful value for our customers through a combination of things, which includes lots of cool new relevant functions tied to technology, but also through design and the intrinsic value that our products deliver. 

We try to make it simple. We try to save our customers time and make them happy.  So I think it's not just about delivering a boat load of technology features, it's about delivering unique, elegant and relevant products that solves some very practical problems around mobile, versus just bombarding them with sort of a wearable version of their smartphone.

Smartwatch FM: Lets talk about the feature of the smartwatch.  Bill you've been in this market for a while, you're really kind of there near the beginning.  Where's it going, is it going to be companion and paired devices? Is it going to be kind of phones on my wrist? What do you see happening to the smartwatch category?

Gieser: That's a great question.  We think a lot about this, and I think maybe using an analogy is a good way to look at this.I think the auto industry is a really useful analog for understanding where the smartwatch categories gonna be headed. People understand the auto business, so it's a comparison that sort of easy understand and process and so on to help you understand position and target markets and so on. 

I would say right now the smartwatch market is very much in the model T era.  You know you can have any color you want as long as it's black.  This is going to change and this will change very very quickly.  Like cars, the smartwatch market's going to morph into multiple segments. There's going to be inexpensive models for the masses, there's going to be more expensive flashier models for those that want something more unique, and there's going to be custom versions for special markets and special applications. 

I would say whether they're really smart or sort of smart, These new things that we're going to wear on our wrist are still watches.  And there's a massive number of people who buy and wear watches every day.  Like as you and I were just talking, there's over 1.2 billion watches were sold in 2012.  So it's not a speculative market, it's a very very big market. 

Now some people are really comfortable with lots of technology, but many aren't.  I think you're going to see a broad range of capabilities emerge in this category.  Some products are going to be advanced, some are going to be simple, it will just depend on what markets each of these manufacturers target.  Like I said, I think the car business is a good analogy, and so I think a good question for us and all the other competitors is what do you want to be?  Do you want to be a Kia, a Ford, a Cadillac, or a Porsche?

Smartwatch FM: What's next for Metawatch?  Can you talk a little bit about the future and where you see your product going?

Geiser: Well there's going to be an ongoing flow of new features.  New widgets, new applications. This is the I think the really cool thing about a smartwatch as compared to a traditional watch, which is a regular analog watch that I can go and buy just about anywhere.  The most it's ever going to do for me is that first day I bring it home.  Whereas with a smartwatch, the first day you bring it home is probably the least it will ever be fore you because every time a new version of software comes out new features will be introduced. So we're going to be rolling out a number of new features, each month, just from over time. 

The key to supporting that is an architecture which supports a UI that's shared between the watch and the phone.  This was the other thing we talked about.  You know one of the experiences we had was in 2004 we launched a product called wrist PDA and it got a lot of attention, it was one of the, it won a big award at CES for...

Smartwatch FM: Based on the Palm OS?

Geiser: Yes, based on the Palm OS. It won a lot of awards, it got a lot of very positive press from the tech media. But we learned the hard way that it's really easy to overload a watch UI when you start to add new apps and new applications to it.  This is why I'm saying a UI that's shared on the watch and the phone is in my view and absolute requirement for scaling this type of experience for the consumer.  The whole idea is to eliminate complexity for them, and I can tell you from having designed hundreds of digital watches in my career, it's really easy to overload just a simple little digital watch with too many functions.  Every time you add a new feature or new mode or application. 

So that would be the first thing; new features and capabilities and applications that come through the watch but with the focus on making them very very simple to use.  Then later this year, you're going to see the first fruit of our collaboration from our collaboration with Frank Nuovo, who's one of the world great designers. He formerly headed up design for Nokia, and then he was the founding designer for Vertu, a luxury phone handset manufacturer.

Smartwatch FM: So that really speaks to your emphasis on fashion, on the look and the feel of the watch, not just the inside of the watch.

Geiser: I would say it's an equal focus on both. 

Smartwatch FM: And this is kind of inaugural episode here, I probably missed a step.  I forgot to ask you to talk a little bit about the current lineup. You have a couple different iterations and a couple different models.

Geiser: Yes, we have two styles. One is called strata, which is a sport watch oriented product. Its double injection molded plastic. 5 ATM, you can swim with it. Its got kind of a retro design. Again, being really designed for really active use. 

The other one is called Frame.  Stainless steel glass and leather.  It's a really slim elegant design for when you want to dress up just a little bit more.

Smartwatch FM: It's a nice looking watch, I was looking at that, it's a just a, the look and feel it's very well designed.

Geiser: Thank you

Smartwatch FM: What about, can I ask you about 3rd party apps?  Can we expect that at some point?

Yes,  you're going to see a number of 3rd party applications come out.

We've announced one already, they're still working on their app. It's with a cycling manufacturer called Sound of Motion. They've got a really really interesting product that's a power meter for cyclists.  Low energy Bluetooth cycling meter for you know for people who are interested in the performance aspects of their cycling. 

We support that, there will be a handful of new applications coming out over the remainder of this year.  I can't really comment on that. We'll be updating our SDK, for Metawatch and that should accelerate even more apps to follow.

Smartwatch FM: Is there a little surprise, or kind of something a little known fact about the Metawatch people don't know?

Geiser: You know I think the one thing that I've learned - I've worn a Bluetooth watch every single day since 2006, it's a Bluetooth watch that's connected to a phone that I've been carrying.  And I think the one thing that is I've found to be true... now and I'll qualify this by saying you are talking to an enthusiastically biased source... but the amount of value you get from this is truly remarkable.  I mean it really does simplify how you engage with mobile phones.  The ability to glance at your wrist saves an incredible amount of time, versus having to pull your phone out, turn your display and figure out why it just honked or beeped at you.

Smartwatch FM: Bill Geiser thank you for taking some time with me today, it's been a very educational call.

Geiser: Michael thank you really enjoyed it.